Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait enamel of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), profile to the right, wearing gilt-studded armour and falling lawn collar 

 English School 

Portrait enamel of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), profile to the right, wearing gilt-studded armour and falling lawn collar,  English School
18th Century
Oval, 2 Ľ in. (58 mm.) high
Christies, London, 21st November 1967, lot 8; British Private Collection.
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This portrait enamel of Oliver Cromwell derives from an unfinished, ad vivum portrait miniature by Samuel Cooper (1607/8-1672) in the National Portrait Gallery collection [NPG 5274] dating to c.1655. Both this and a second profile portrait of Cromwell by Cooper, previously with Philip Mould & Co., may have been produced as preparatory works for the medallist Thomas Simon (1618-1665). Cooper painted very few profile portraits of Cromwell, however, their unusual composition later became iconic images for artists, such as this English school eighteenth-century enamellist, seeking to depict the Lord Protector, both in miniatures and in engravings.

The artist Christian Richter (1678-1732) was renowned for his portraits after Cooper, including a variant of Cooper’s National Portrait Gallery profile of Cromwell sold at Christie’s, London in 1981, and paved the way for eighteenth-century engravings by Gerald Vandergucht [NPG D28725] and Thomas Cook [NPG D28727]. By the nineteenth century Oliver Cromwell was being portrayed more sympathetically by Romantic artists and poets. A memorial stone was laid in Westminster Abbey, on the site of his burial, which almost certainly revived interest in the Lord Protector with a transitioning nineteenth-century public. Engravings of Cromwell continued into the nineteenth century with artists such as J.T. Wedgwood [NPG D28729] and William Holl Sr [NPG D28724] and controversially, for the first time, statues of him were commissioned for public spaces in Manchester and outside the Palace of Westminster in London.
Oliver Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in British History. He was a fanatical puritan who enforced the abolition of Christmas and who wholeheartedly believed that god was responsible for his victories. His complete faith in god made him fearless.

Little documentary evidence survives from the first forty years of Oliver Cromwell’s life, he was, however, a descendent of the sister of King Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. It is recorded that he went to the local Grammar School in Huntingdon where his family were wealthy landowners and where he spent his childhood. A fascinating story, sadly almost certainly fictional, relayed by John Morrill for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Cromwell, recalls that Prince Charles, later Charles I, aged three, once played with the young Oliver Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke. The children supposedly squabbled and Oliver punched Charles in the nose and made it bleed.

Cromwell attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he matriculated in 1616. Four years later he married Elizabeth Bourchier (1598-1665), the daughter of a successful London leather merchant, before his conversion to independent puritanism which began in the 1630s. He became a Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628, for Cambridge in the Short in 1640 and finally Cambridge in the Long between 1640 and 1649. During the English Civil War he joined the parliamentarians and quickly worked his way up the ranks to become a leading commander of the New Model Army.

When disputes with Charles I reached breaking point, Cromwell was one of the signatories of the King’s death warrant in 1649. During the short-lived parliament that followed, the Rump Parliament (1649-1653), Cromwell was a key member and was responsible for commanding the English campaign in Ireland between 1649 and 1650, which primarily involved seizing and confiscating land from the Irish Catholics. He also led a campaign in Scotland between 1650 and 1651. In 1653 Cromwell dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, and set up the Barebone’s Parliament, before abandoning the venture and taking over leadership of the country as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. This was all accomplished within the year. For the remainder of his life, Cromwell led the country as Lord Protector before his death in 1658.

Two years after Cromwell’s death the monarchy was reinstated with Charles II. The King demanded that the body of Oliver Cromwell, along with the regicides Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, should be exhumed from Westminster Abbey and hanged at Tyburn gallows (near Marble Arch). Their heads were then removed and displayed on spikes for twenty years outside Westminster Hall – Cromwell’s head is supposedly now interred at Sidney Sussex College.
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